Geest Bicycle Path
The Geest bike path, or Geest Radweg, cuts across northern Germany from
Meppen on the Dutch border to Bremen on the Weser River. The path is a good one
for older baby boomers like us (Mid-to-late sixties) and for families with children.
July, 2013. The word “Geest”
as in Geest Radweg, the name of this tour, comes from the Dutch or Friesen
language meaning sandy area or sandy plateau. Much of northern Germany is flat and
relatively low in altitude. Sure, there are a few hills but they are not daunting.
Most of the path is paved and what is not paved is still in good condition (with
the exception of some sand near Syke). There are large areas of sandy areas in the
lowest areas and many are also covered in peat (Turf in German) many feet
thick. Instead of starting in Meppen, we start in Papenburg. Why? Because this tour
is organized by Guntram, Maxa's brother, who wanted to see the Meyer Werft (shipyard)
and it is just a short day’s ride south from Papenburg to Sögel, which is near Meppen
and on the Geest bike path. If you like archeology, you will enjoy visiting the
several Großsteingrab (large stone burial sites or Dolmens) from the Early
Stone Age along the way.
The signage is fine. Although even with OK signage, we manage to get off the signed
cycle path a couple of times, first leaving Papenburg (which is not part of the
Geest cycle path) and again the next morning leaving Sögel (which is on the signed
cycle path). Nevertheless, we do not backtrack but rather figure out where we are
and where we want to rejoin the cycle path and just make it happen without missing
anything too important.
We have no trouble finding accommodations
although on this tour, we did make advance reservations for this ride. I know, making
advance reservations is not our usual modus operandi but we are six riders. Finding
lodging for six is at least one level of magnitude higher than finding lodging for
two. There are three pages of overnight accommodations in the back of the guidebook
I reference below.
In addition to our overnight stops,
we recommend a stop in Cloppenburg for the outdoor museum of life in the region
and Bremen is very historic with many sights to see.
We used the bikeline guide. The image to the right is attributed
Fishpond.com because, for reasons unknown to me, it does not appear on the publisher,
Esterbauer Verlag, website. We bought it in a bookstore but perhaps it will not
be printed anymore. The guidebook starts this tour in Meppen, on the Ems River near
the Dutch border, and continues across northern Germany to Bremen on the Weser.
We, however, start in Papenburg and join the mapped cycle path in Sögel about 16
kilometers from Meppen.
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Day 1: Papenburg to Sögel
is a beautiful city on the Ems River. It is a tourist destination for many Europeans
because of its beauty and because of the Meyer Werft, a Werft is a Shipyard.
While Papenburg has about 35,000 residents, but they annually host 300,000 visitors.
In 2014, Papenburg will host the German National Garden Show, die Bundesgartenshau.
That show plus the shipyard will bring about 500,000 visitors to this small city.
The city is gearing up for the influx. There are already many hotels in the city,
some brand new like the one we used. More hotels are in various stages of construction.
This little city is used to tourists who come to visit the shipyard so if you are
planning a visit, do not hold back – it will be a pleasant time. One can learn about
the city’s history, shipbuilding and peat trade, the canals, and the region by reading
the bronze plaques along the main canal in the center of town.
In 1630, Herr Dietrich von Velen purchased a manor house and started a settlement
(now Papenburg) nearby so he could harvest and sell the peat that grows so thick
in the area. The peat trade was profitable and peat from Papenburg was delivered
to surrounding countries even as far away as Spain. Life for the workers was very
difficult. As the peat decomposed, it gave off a gas, or perhaps the gas was present
in the soil beneath the peat. Many workers and their family members died if they
did not elevate their sleeping platforms above the level of the heavier than air
gas that accumulated in their earthen dwellings.
We rode through Papenburg in June of 2008 on our Ems River Tour. However, that
day we only paused for our picnic lunch and did not realize all that Papenburg has
In Papenburg, we stayed at a Kedi Hotel.
The price was OK for a new and nice hotel at €59 per person for one night. Breakfast
was not included but they have a cafeteria of sorts.
We spend our first day touring the
Meyer Werft and
find it extremely interesting. Established in 1795 to build boats and ships for
the peat trade (peat is Turf in German), the enterprise while publicly traded remains
in Meyer family control. They build huge cruise ships for famous firms like Norwegian
and Disney as well as many other types of ships and specialty craft. Our decision
to start our tour here, instead of Meppen was a good one though we pass up the Meppen
to Sögel portion of the path.
day following our visit to the shipyard, we pedal out of Papenburg in the direction
of Surwold and Sögel. OK, we make a wrong turn to avoid some of the main street
traffic and end up a little to the west of the signed Emsland Route path.
Our first stop is to purchase
a picnic lunch of Bröchen and fruit.
past the crossroad at Börgemoor, we stop at Gaststätte Ruhe for a “breakfast
Bier”. The cycle path is flat and straight as an arrow.
We ride through a park and find a 70-foot hill. I am surprised
because hills are rare on this tour. Next after a level piece, we climb another
40-foot hill to a watershed divide. From here the path is gently rolling but mostly
downhill through Börger and Werploh to Sögel along L51, a lightly traveled Landstrasse.
It is a short ride today
and we overnight in Sögel. We stayed at Clemenswerther Hof, Clemens-August-Str 33,
telephone 05952-1230. The price was €79 for two people, one night. This is a nice
hotel with breakfast. While in Sögel, we visited the palace or
that was built about 1741 by Clemmens August of Bavaria. But, don’t let his name
mislead you; he was the Elector of Cologne which is not nearly as far away as Bavaria.
It is a beautiful palace but small, just my size. The tour guides describe what
life was like in the infrequently used palace and that alone is amazing. These royals
were ultra-formal in everything they did.
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Day 2: Sögel to Dwergte
The path is mostly flat and mostly
paved. Moving on the next day, we missed a left turn just past the Schloßpark turn
because it just did not look like it was the correct bike path. Our mistake took
us out of the way to Eisten before turning back toward Werlte via Lahn where we
reconnected with the official cycle path. Photo 2498 Großsteingrab a gravesite from
2300 and 1800 BCE. Discovered in 1936. The hill where the gravesite was originally
located was leveled by farmers for agricultural purposes.
Eisten. This is a gravesite from 2300 and 1800 BCE. First discovered in 1936, the
hill where the gravesite was originally located was leveled by farmers for agricultural
purposes. There is not much to see. We are not yet on the Geest cycle path.
Finally, we rejoin the official cycle path in Werlte 42.5
kilometers along the path from Meppen. We apparently saved 3 kilometers by taking
the route we did while off the cycle path. The image here is of Kreutzmanns Mühle
(Mühle means mill).
We stopped to inspect a gravesite again from the Early Stone
Age (3400 to 2800 BCE) called Devil’s Rock (Großsteingrab Teufelssteine).
We stop for the night in
Dwergte at the Gasthaus Zum Dorfkrug, Molberger Str. 1, 49696 Dwergte, Telephone
04475-1807. Email is email@example.com ; Website is
here. The price is €50 per person
per night. Their breakfast is great. Monday is their day off.
Day 3: Dwergte to Wildeshausen
While most of the path is paved,
there is also a fair amount of dirt or gravel path today, especially around Ahlhorn.
The better news is today is mostly downhill but you will not notice it because it
is so gradual. The other good news is you will see many Dolmens or gravesites from
the Stone Age today if you wish to.
Our first stop is the town’s
open-air museum in Cloppenburg (Museumsdorf) where we spent over an hour
and a half. There is a plethora of buildings in the museum. Each has its own theme
such as cooperage, dining, farm equipment manufacturer, wood lathe, and of course
residential uses by people in different social economic strata. The richest (not
including royalty) lived in the Herrenhaus or owner’s dwelling. The farmhands shared
space with the animals in the barn. One wonders how many flies were at the dinner
table given the location of the dining table in the barn. There are plenty today
and the animals are long departed.
In more modern days, people
live in homes like the bicolored brick house on the right. This one though is somewhat
OK, we have done it again;
we are off the cycle path. We are at the Bahnhof in Alhorn and we wanted to turn
right at the airport on a street called Am Scheidenwald. The sign was small, there
was a woman standing on the path the distracted our attention to signs, and it looked
like an entrance to an industrial park that we assumed was a dead end. Wrong. So
now we are just going to start down the Wildeshauser Strasse toward Wildeshausen.
We have several more Dolmen (Stone Age gravesites) to see between here and Wildeshausen.
We will wander off the main roads onto dirt and gravel paths in the search but we
do find most of them. This in spite of the biting black flies in the woods.
Just outside of Wildeshausen
we have reservations at Wildeshauserhof, aka Hotel Huntetal. The river next to the
hotel is the Hunte River. Their address is Im Hagen 3, D-27793 Wildeshausen; telephone
04431-9400. The cost is €72 per night for 2 people. Breakfast is another €8 per
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Day 4 Wildeshausen to Syke
Very gradual up and down today.
A beautiful day in Northern Germany, the sun is shining, birdsong is ever-present,
and there is no wind.
Prior to packing our panniers
on our bicycles we rode around Wildeshausen to check out the town a bit. Founded
in 851, Wildeshausen has a long history. Two of the buildings here are the oldest
in Oldenburg region, they date from the 13th Century. If we had made advance arrangements,
we could have toured the distillery but we did not know that beforehand. Just as
we left the hotel, the manager met us to say goodbye and gave us schnapps to drink
to send us on our way. It is a nice touch, unexpected and tasty too. Photos: 2534
and 2535 Old church in Wildeshausen 2536 is the Rathaus another of the oldest buildings
We stop for coffee in Harpstedt
and find a cute little old Closter along the Jakobsweg (the Way to Santiago in Spain,
a pilgrimage). They do not serve any alcohol but the hospitality is great. Also,
in town there are a series of rocks that date from prehistory called the Sonnenstein.
We missed those, unfortunately.
The path turns into gravel
and even some sand for a while. We pass some cows where the path is no more than
a single track along a small creek. The cows think we are nuts I have no doubt.
Here is a blue sign telling us that we are on the pilgrim’s path. This is part of
a feeder system of paths that lead to El Camino de Santiago in northern Spain. The
pilgrimage is sometimes referred to as, “The Way.” Over 1,000 years old, the pilgrimage
was an essential part of Europe’s “Grand Tour.” In the Middle Ages, an aristocrat
needed to see the civilized world before settling down and this route is part of
that educational experience.
At the top of the hill we
are back on asphalt, after riding through some of the worst sandy path conditions
that we have experienced in 14 years of touring Germany. Sand is the worst of the
path conditions we ever encounter. Sand can bring your bike to a stop so you have
to get off and push if you cannot pedal through in your granny gear.
We stay the night in Syke
at Wessel’s Hotel, 33 Hauptstrasse, 28857 Syke. Telephone 04242-60257. Internet
webpage. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
This is a quality, relatively recently remodeled hotel. The cost for two people
for one night in a double room is about €70. We get champagne for breakfast. With
the schnapps yesterday morning and champagne today, I think the German hospitality
industry is trying to ruin my liver. They don’t know but I don’t need any help in
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Day 5 Syke to Bremen
Today is a short one, distance
wise. The end of our tour is Bremen, only 20 miles down the road. It is also flat,
Syke is an OK town but we did
not find much to write home about. In early June, there is a Jazz and bicycle festival
in Syke. You can enjoy the music and pedal to the next venue. There is also an old
“Amtshof” with a historical town wall that dates from 1562. However, such town walls
are not uncommon. They were built in the day when you needed to protect yourself
not only from foreign invaders but also from the neighboring town down the road.
Sometimes, you needed to protect yourself from your own landlord. As we leave, we
take a photograph of Wassermühle Barrien.
It not only is a well-preserved grain grinding mill but also a current day electricity
producing waterwheel. The mill was run by the Barrien family and recently Heinrich
Schmidt-Barrien (1902 - 1996), a descendent as well as an esteemed author and playwright
was active in Syke. The building today houses an event center, a museum, and a Gasthaus
We pedal through Riede. We
were here earlier this year when we rode the Weser for the second time. After Riede,
we must follow the Weser Radweg signs because from here to Bremen, Geest Radweg
signs are few and far between.
We arrive at the Bahnhof
in Bremen. Our tour ends here. Having been in Bremen several times before, we simply
have a cup of coffee near the Bahnhof and hop the first train toward our home base
in Kassel. It has been a nice ride with no mishaps, seldom lost, and no flat tires.
Life is good.
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